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Leather

Exhibition

I want

Gareth Pugh

Leather Issue

Interview by
Sabrina Morrison

Photographer
Clément Dauvent

What is one of your earliest memories of leather?

The leather gloves my mum wore when she took me to school. It’s a strange thing to hold your Mum’s hand when it’s clad in leather — because it has so many connotations that you don’t think about when you’re six. The act of holding your Mother’s hand is so much about comfort, and leather signifies so many paradoxical things.

What prompted you to first use leather in your work?

It’s something I’ve always used and had an affinity with. And I’ve never analyzed it too much, but we can’t forget what it is. It’s an animal’s back. It’s been ripped off of an animal, and that’s quite savage and brutal in a way. But then leather can look beautiful and sensual and feminine. They’re polar opposites. To transform something that’s been used for thousands of years and turn it into an object of desire rather than an object of repulsion, I think that’s quite interesting.

As a designer, how close have you been to the production of those materials?

I found that the leather industry tends to be quite secretive. I went to see a fur farm and was very interested about going and seeing the process but they were like oh it’s shut today.” I’m not sure they’re so used to people actually asking to go and see it. But I think to be able to use it in a sincere way you have to understand where it comes from.

There is a broad spectrum of attitudes toward skins and pelts, have you had some experience with those?

One of my very first seasons I made a coat which was fox fur and inside the seams were set hair, human hair. We’d usually use goat and on the fur… So a lot of buyers were quite intrigued or disgusted when they found out it was human. Which I thought was interesting because the goat had to die whereas the human hair is a by-product.

3 words that describe leather.

My favorite leather, that we use quite a lot, I named my company after, Hard & Shiny. What’s paradoxical about it is that leather isn’t inherently like that – it looks like a black mirror. I quite enjoy the fact that it looks fake but it’s not. So for those reasons, hard, shiny, and expensive.

Aside from your prized patent are there any other leathers you’ve taken a shine to?

A beautiful lambskin that they treat in such a way that it becomes really matte with very little texture. It works and feels like leather but looks like rubber. The opposite end of the spectrum. My factory supplies Rick Owens as well who uses these lovely blister leathers, but my eye always errs toward the pristine.

Once functional and easily available, leather is now a symbol of luxury. Even more so in the future, as resources for supporting meat and leather production are depleted.

I just treat it like any other fabric. I think that’s kind of a good thing. Otherwise it’s thinking too much about what kind of messages your work carries. I don’t partake in that whole process. What we do in Paris is on quite a big platform, and you’ve got to be careful about what you put out because people can take very different things away from it. Just before the last show, I got a little concerned about the cages. To me, it was more about the release than the restriction. We started with cages and worked toward this explosion. The last thing I wanted people to take away from that show was misogyny. Tim Blanks for example said he got happy’ from the collection. I don’t know how he got that from it, but it’s amazing to see it through somebody else’s eyes… Someone asked me recently, with all the shoulders and masks, if I was obsessed with aliens. It’s strange for people to get alien’ from what I do because it just comes naturally to me. I’m not into science fiction or presenting a futurist point of view. It’s important to keep it pure, so I need to get some distance between my head and those critical minds in order to continue. If you get too involved in what people think of you then I wouldn’t leave the house.

Working as you do with fashion film, do you see catwalks and shows becoming a thing of the past?

Fashion shows will exist for quite a long time. It relies on a group mentality and feeling of community that you get when these industry people come together during fashion week.

Like a wonderfully dysfunctional family reunion.

It’s like the difference between kids playing outside with their friends or kids playing on their own inside with their Playstation. It’s important to have that interaction.

What are some of your film inspirations?

The Shining, which is amazing, Legend and Cabaret with Liza Minelli. But I never take directly from things. It’s always taking lots of things in and spitting them back out. I do think in analogies and I don’t want to say this one but — it goes down and when it comes back up it looks a lot different.

Is there anything you do to get unstuck when you’re in creative mode?

The worst thing I can do is to do something different. So if I find myself in that situation, I basically just don’t leave the studio. It’s nice to be here, on my own all night and play around with things. Kinda force something out.

What are the survival essentials?

Apart from my boyfriend? I have a tiny little suitcase, and it’s hardly full. Earplugs, a pot of moisturizer, and a shaver. It’s nice not feeling like you’re lugging around your life.

Black and white, you really stick to it. One being the absence of light and the other the inclusion of all. Help me understand your interest in it.

Rather than a simple aesthetic, I like that fusion of two opposites. Just to give you the abridgement of that, there’s a book by a French writer that I like a lot (Manhood by Michel Leiris) about a search for something that doesn’t exist. I relate, in my work, to that search for the perfect thing that you never find which inspires you to do the next thing and the next… a sense of dissatisfaction that you have to feel as a designer in order to go forward. Leiris writes about his ideal woman. There’s a diptych at the front of the book by Lucas Cranach. It’s a painting of two women. One is Judith, the other Lucretia. One is the castratress who’s just chopped off Holofernes’ head and she’s holding a sword – the powerful one. And Lucretia is holding a dagger and she’s about to kill herself, she’s just been raped — she’s very fragile, feeble. Basically, they’re polar opposite ideas of femininity. And his ideal was some combination of those two. Which is like the saying, a cook in the kitchen, a whore in the bedroom.’ The idea of these opposites existing in this one thing is interesting to me. Black and white is a very abstract representation of that unachievable goal in a sense. It feels contrived to say it like that because we’re talking about colors and clothes, but basically I don’t ever want to feel satisfied. It’s nice to think that we’re all searching for that but never quite find it. It’s a little sado — masochistic I suppose but it’s what gets people out of bed every morning.